Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number – Part II
Last week, I covered some veteran hitters whose 2016 ADP wasn’t quite lining up with their positional ranking from 2015. This week I take a look at seven veteran pitchers, many of them undervalued, who may be an inexpensive missing piece for a championship run or a solid sell for a quick rebuild.
Justin Verlander (ESPN SP Player Rater: 56, Current SP ADP: 36, Difference +20, Overall ADP: 131)
The Cy Young-winning Verlander of old is gone. But there still might be some gas left in his tank. After an injury-delayed, abysmal first half, Verlander was able to put it back together, throwing 103 innings with a 2.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the second part of 2015. A team on the brink of a championship may be able to use the veteran Verlander as an SP3 or SP4 for a run in spite of his more limited long-term value. Verlander represents the rare opportunity for selling teams to benefit as well, as he’s exactly the type of veteran a non-competitive team should sell, and his second-half production propped up his present value.
Collin McHugh (ESPN SP Player Rater: 30, Current SP ADP: 50, Difference -20, Overall ADP: 179)
19 wins softened the blow for owners expecting a repeat of McHugh’s 2014 breakout season. A stabilized BABIP brought his ERA up over a point from the previous year, and he struck out a batter and a half less per nine. The 28-year-old still posted a nominally above-average whiff rate despite not-so-great velocity, though. His contact profile also improved notably, with more ground balls and less hard-hit balls.He’s still taking the ball every fifth day for an up-and-coming Astros team that is going to give him a chance to rack up Wins. He may not repeat 2014, but savvy dynasty owners may be able to get McHugh at a discount just as he enters his prime pitching years.
John Lackey (ESPN SP Player Rater: 27, Current SP ADP: 53, Difference -36, Overall ADP: 184)
A disastrous 2011, followed by a lost Tommy John season, may still be the culprit for fantasy owners overlooking Lackey in 2016. Despite three straight solid seasons, including a career-low ERA in 2015, Lackey is going a whopping 36 spots lower than his ranking among starting pitchers last year. Lackey threw more innings last year than he had since 2007, and though his peripherals suggested an ERA in the high-threes, the topline production was still leaps and bounds above his current ADP neighbors. There may be more glamorous options on the trading block, but dynasty owners wanting to beef up their rotation for a championship run may be able to pick up Lackey for pennies compared to shinier pitchers with similar production.
Wei-Yin Chen (ESPN SP Player Rater: 34, Current SP ADP: 56, Difference -22, Overall ADP: 206)
30-year-old arms with below-average strikeout rates tend not to be the most glamorous of dynasty options, but there’s an interesting profile here. The move to Miami and Marlins Park is an excellent one in terms of Chen’s biggest weakness: right-handed production, specifically of the homerun variety. Chen’s new home is one of the hardest on right-handed power hitters, a stark contrast from the friendly confines of Camden Yards. He also has the benefit of switching leagues and trading Designated Hitters for hitting pitchers, and he goes from the worst outfield defense in the majors backing him up to a closer-to-average one. Dynasty owners may want to overlook the solid, if not unspectacular, veteran too. But smart dynasty owners will pay the likely-modest price to add a solid SP3 to their rotation.
Jaime Garcia (ESPN SP Player Rater: 28, Current SP ADP: 57, Difference -29, Overall ADP: 220)
When Garcia has pitched for the Cardinals, he has been remarkably consistent, striking out seven batters per game and posting an xFIP around 3.25. His issue hasn’t been pitching poorly, it’s been pitching in general. Garcia has a laundry list of injuries in the medical file. And they most recently limited him to 20 starts last season after he toed the rubber just 16 times combined between 2013 and 2014. After he was healthy enough to debut last May, Garcia rewarded VERY patient dynasty league owners with over a half-season’s worth of starts, finishing with an ERA under 3.00. Garcia’s injury risk is among the highest of any player, making him a guy to target only for a considerable discount relative to his production when healthy. A team on the cusp of a championship should still tread carefully when acquiring a player like Garcia, only trading for him if he’s cheap and he’s not being counted on for necessary depth.
Scott Kazmir (ESPN SP Player Rater: 38, Current SP ADP: 58, Difference -20, Overall ADP: 209)
In a potential case of recency bias, owners in redraft leagues are overlooking Kazmir’s stellar first half, where he had a 2.49 ERA and struck out nearly a batter an inning. A perennial injury concern, Kazmir had started to quiet the doubters over the past two years, until his velocity flagged considerably at the outset of spring training. Like Garcia, a healthy Kazmir is a valuable piece for a championship rotation. Redraft leagues are looking at his second half when picking him this year, and that feeling is sure to spill into dynasty leagues, as well, giving risk-taking owners a shot at a mid-rotation arm for half of the price.
Jason Hammel (ESPN SP Player Rater: 37, Current SP ADP: 53, Difference -26, Overall ADP: 232)
Fantasy owners, myself included, are always a little skeptical of pitchers like Hammel, who put together a career year at 31. So, I can see why last year there may have been some doubts. Hammel was able to exceed expectations though, finishing with a career-high strikeout rate, and a career-low xFIP. Despite two consecutive solid years, and a rotation spot locked up for the Cubs, Hammel is still going after 62 other starting pitchers, a full 26 spots below his 2015 year-end ranking. At 33 years old, Hammel probably isn’t getting much more love in dynasty leagues either, but undervalued guys like Hammel are often how smart owners find value at the bottom of their rosters.
As with the hitters, a team making a championship run or working to restock the cupboard doesn’t need to get or trade an ace to get to the next level. Dynasty league trading is almost always about value. Trading for undervalued players can push a team a step closer to the championship game without sacrificing too much of the future. And shipping overvalued players to your league-mates can help make for a quick rebuild. When it comes to value, it’s often the savvy, smaller deals involving veterans who are being under- or over-valued that make for the smartest moves.